Venice Guide for Christmas and New Year

Venice is known as the most romantic destination in the world, so it’s only fitting to combine Venice with the most festive time of the year to get the potent cocktail of beauty, spirituality, and magic! Not many people think of Venice as an ideal winter holiday destination, yet Venice is truly enchanting this time of the year with few tourists, the convivial atmosphere, the music of church bells, and the romance of snow falling on water and covering the world’s most beautiful sites. Here we offer you a few tips for discovering Venice at Christmas and having a wonderful time.

Rialto Bridge in Venice at Christmas

1) Nativity Scenes

Venice is a perfect place to escape the commercialization and hoop-la around winter holidays that took the United States and much of Europe by storm in recent years. In tune with Venice’s centuries-old traditions, Christmas trees and crazy amounts of Christmas decor are not favored in Venice, giving place to elaborate nativity scenes or Presepi, which were first invented in Italy by St. Francis of Assisi in 1223. The beautiful and elaborate handcrafted Nativity Scenes can be seen in hotel and shop windows, Christmas markets, and in churches, though many Venetian churches do not unveil them until Christmas eve.

2) Churches

No matter what your religion, gorgeous Venetian churches are a must-visit destination around Christmas time when they are hosting concerts, Nativity scenes, and, of course, masses. Some church concerts are free, such as the one at Frari church in sestiere San Polo which is held on December 26th at 4pm. Other concerts are held in historical palazzos and scuolas and require tickets for entry, and there are some that are by-invitation-only, such as the famous Concerto di Natale at the Basilica di San Marco. It is difficult to get invited, but if you would still like to experience the holiday spirit in the Basilica, you can attend the high mass there on Sunday before Christmas or the midnight mass on Christmas eve, which starts at 10:30 p.m. and you should get there early to get a seat (no tickets are needed).

3) Christmas Markets

Christmas markets are a long-time tradition in Europe and Venice is no exception. The biggest and best Christmas market in town is at Campo San Stefano and runs from early December until Christmas. The market features a cheerful atmosphere with special performances, tasty regional food, and hot spiced wine for adults, sweets and entertainment for kids, and local crafts such as Murano Glass Christmas ornaments, jewelry, and figurines, Burano laces, masks, and other artisanal specialties. Italian Babbo Natale (Father Christmas), a Santa Claus-like figure, is loved by kids throughout Italy and makes and arrives into Venice by water (of course) stepping off a gondola and giving out sweets to the delight of children and tourists alike.

4) New Year’s

The most cherished New Year eve tradition in Venice is to gather at Piazza San Marco for a convivial evening of live music and dancing, toasts, a midnight kiss with beautiful St. Mark’s Basilica and water splashing in the distance as a backdrop. The magnificent fireworks follow and then DJ’s continue to light up the night. In other words, if you are in Venice over the New Year’s San Marco is the place to be for the festivities. Of course, we recommend heading there only after you’ve had a delicious dinner at one of Venice’s many great restaurants, which always need to be reserved ahead for New Year’s Eve.

Piazza San Marco from St. Mark’s Campanile courtesy of Shark Attacks on Flickr

5) After New Year’s

In Italy, New Year’s is not the end of holiday festivities. Italians love their holidays and their winter holidays end only on January 6th with Epiphany, when a witch called La Befana flies on the broomstick and leaves gifts for good children all over Italy. La Befana is celebrated in Venice with special races where men over 55 years old dressed as old witches row their boats along the Grand Canal. The rowing club Canotierri Bucintoro, the sponsor of the races, serves hot chocolate and mulled wine for spectators on Fondamenta del Vin. This one-of-a-kind annual Venetian festivity is not to be missed if you are there on Epiphany day.

La Befana courtesy of Simone Zucchelli on Flickr

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